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Disastrous post-Brexit touring restrictions take a turn for the worse in Spain

Recently announced visa rules in Spain mean emerging artists can no longer afford to play there. Now Then explains why.

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2018's Primavera Sound welcomed UK bands including Arctic Monkeys, Belle and Sebastian and Chvrches.

Bruno Figueiredo on Unsplash.

'Forewarned is forearmed,' goes the well-known saying. Nobody can say that the UK music industry wasn't ahead of the curve in recognising that the post-Brexit landscape for UK artists would be different.

That foresight however didn't stretch as far as anticipating that there would be a further 20 months of inaction and obfuscation by the UK government. They have failed to negotiate a post-deal arrangement to allow the phenomenally successful continuation of European touring by UK bands without the penalties of unviable visa costs, red tape and carnet tariffs on equipment shipping.

With this imbroglio unresolved – and no plans currently tabled for the UK and the EU to address the issues – you would think the situation was as bad as it gets, wouldn't you? Well, it just got worse.

Enter Spain, with new visa rules that both Spanish festival organisers and UK promoters – especially those managing emerging acts – agree could, according to one manager, "erase Spain from the touring circuit for UK acts."

Hyperbole? It would seem not. 2021 Mercury nominees Black Country, New Road and post-punk outfit Squid have already pulled out of Spanish shows "without any hint of rescheduling their respective tours", according to promoters Primavera Sound.

Of course, pre-Brexit it was all so simple. As Mark Davyd, Music Venue Trust CEO told the NME, "Previously, if a rising band like Bang Bang Romeo wanted to go and play in Europe they could have just got on a train. If the promoters had some amps, the band could just go over there on the Eurostar and play a gig in Paris tomorrow night."

That is no longer the case. While major bands can pick up the tab with minor financial discomfort, emerging bands simply can't afford it.

Ina Tatarko is one of Squid's managers. "With current visa requirements for Spain, you have to pay £409 per person for a work visa, so we weren't able to play smaller shows because it wouldn't have been financially feasible" she told the NME. "Basically, if you take into account that it's a five-piece band and you have to pay for at least two of the crew's visas as well, it's a lot of money (£2,863) that soon adds up."

Anabella Coldrick, CEO of the Music Manager's Forum, told the NME: "Two Door Cinema Club made it to Spain recently, but had to absorb £8,000 of visa costs. To absorb that cost you have to be of a certain level already. Even then, that's wiping out a lot of money you'd have been making before you have to pay the crew."

Even established acts don't fully escape financial imposition. One band taking a skeleton crew to play one show in Spain incurred £21,000 of visa costs, adding insult to the already pre-2019 fees bands are getting paid. It's a double whammy.

There's also confusion about what specific visas are needed for artists and crew. Industry professionals cite the need in some cases to employ a 'visa specialist' to navigate through the differing advice currently being offered by the Spanish consulate, which inevitably leads to added cost and paperwork.

So what positive actions have been taken?

Spanish promoters are lobbying the Spanish government hard. They're concerned about the financial implications of having no British artists on their festival circuit, resulting in fewer British attendees and significantly reduced income.

From an ideological point of view, the Music Venue Trust's Mark Davyd believes musicians should be holders of 'cultural passports' which equate to freedom of movement - something the UK government will no doubt also have strong ideological views about.

Davyd also advocates the setting up of an agency that's free at the point of access to help bands and artists, an approach that would probably have more chance of gaining traction.

This summer also saw Featured Artists Coalition CEO David Martin launch the #LetTheMusicMove campaign, which gained support from Wolf Alice, IDLES and Radiohead among 200 artists, calling on the UK government to reengage with the EU with the goal of re-negotiating terms.

Martin proposes three main strategies to tackle the issues. "Firstly, they need to negotiate better terms and reduce barriers for artists and crew. Secondly, they should start providing good quality guidance, which they are currently unwilling to do. Everything they have published has been awful. Third, transitional support packages are needed so bands like Squid and Black Country, New Road don't have to cancel shows despite having really successful years."

It's clear that the Department for Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) aren't going to take action anytime soon. Industry experts cite a chronic lack of engagement and the "incredibly slow" pace of action, stating that DCMS seem more intent on endless fact finding, all done at the expense of listening to an industry in crisis.

The departure of DCMS minister and ardent Brexiteer Oliver Dowden, only to be replaced by similarly ardent Brexiteer Nadine Dorries, doesn't bode well for the future either. Those post-Brexit "sunny uplands" seem ever more distant for the bands of the future.

Where can we find hope? Certainly the prolonged and sustained lobbying by the likes of Davyd, Coldrick and (hopefully) their EU counterparts can gain some much-needed traction.

We too can help David Martin's #LetTheMusicMove campaign by signing the online petition that backs a musician's passport that lasts a minimum of two years, is free or at least cheap, covers all EU member states, eliminates carnets and other permits and – critically – covers road crew, technicians and other staff necessary for musicians to do their job.

If all else fails, bid a fond farewell to sunny Primavera gig weekends and maybe consider a UK festival? End Of The Road in Dorset would seem appropriate. One thing is for sure – there'll certainly be a bumper crop of UK acts.

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